USPTO Gets One Right: Refuses To Allow Farmers Market To Trademark City’s Nickname

We don't spend a great deal of time here patting the USPTO on the back for getting things right, but occasionally the agency surprises us. When it comes to trademarks being granted for city or town names, the Trademark Office has a higher bar for approval but is still far too permissive. When it comes to widely used nicknames for cities and towns, the Trademark Office's rubber-stamp methods have caused issues. The point here is that, whether its a city's name or nickname we're talking about, neither are good source identifiers, given both their wide use and the fact that both serve as geographic descriptors.

But, again, sometimes the Trademark Office gets things right. Such is the case with Soda City Market, a farmer's market organization in Columbia, SC, that applied for a trademark on its name.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has given the company that runs the popular Saturday market an initial refusal to its patent application. One of the cited objections by the office: Soda City now is a common nickname that cannot really be trademarked, like the name of a city itself.

Another issue raised by the trademark office: there’s another potential trademark out there that was filed for earlier.

Soda City FC, a semi-professional soccer team, had filed earlier to trademark its name, creating the potential for a conflict. Its bid also has received preliminary objections from the trademark office.

This is the right response on both counts. We've seen issues in the past when city names and nicknames are approved for trademark even in very specific markets, such as soccer clubs. To allow entities to lock up such a commonly used phrase, which also is geographic in nature, is practically begging for conflict. As for the farmer's market, it applied for its mark in market designations such as "public events", which, hoo-boy if that had been approved.

Now, the farmer's market could appeal the decision, but it sure seems like that would be more trouble than it's worth. Why the market felt the need for trademark protection on such a generic name in the first place is beyond me.



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